Friday, 3 February, 2023

Democracy: An Antidote To Corruption

Shyam Prasad Mainali

Corruption has been a global phenomenon. Democracy has been now the key defining element governance system globally. In fighting against corruption, democracy only is not sufficient. It hinges upon a series of conditions. Healthy exercises and existence of continuous formal political competition through periodical elections are not enough for achieving such noble destination. Evidence has proved well that level of corruption and level of democracy shows negative relations.

Robust arguments are found in favour of strong autocrat that could maintain stability and could take necessary decisions to get rid of corruption. However, an autocrat is highly vulnerable to become a kleptocrat in the sense that such ruler easily uses the state for its personal enrichment.

Another fact collected by the Freedom House based on the report of World Bank shows clearly that twenty least corrupt countries belong having best exercises of democracy. controlling corruption requires often not only profound changes in the system but usually also requires overcoming the open resistance from the concerned people at large that itself invites democratic set up to run the state.

Different schools of thoughts are expressed whether democracy is helpful to control corruption or not. Democracy itself works in favour of good governance where accountability, transparency, rule of law, effectiveness and efficiency, participation, etc. are major ingredients. If government is dedicated to strengthening good governance, then rare chances of corrupt practices are seen in the state. Emphasis on democratic set- up has been given to the idea that politicians should be accountable to the citizens.

Accountable government always emphasises to control corruption otherwise voters are prepared to punish their representatives through periodical election. Despite vertical accountability, democratic institutions such as supreme audit institution and judiciary could have been working in mitigating corruption by sanctioning other government entities. Especially those countries in democratic transition have made matter worse. In some countries electoral competition seems rather to have incremented corrupt practices i.e., buying votes to get elected and involving in corrupt practices when in the responsibility of public authority.

Activists also have advocated the necessity of dictatorship, the idea having a strong man doing the job of reducing the level of corruption substantially. It may be better to give up some political liberties in favour of less corruption, where decisions are taken promptly, stability is possible, lacks procedural complication and rulers are dedicated to control corruption. Such statesman always works for the betterment of the nation and are renamed by benevolent and democratic dictator as well. Researchers find no significant evidence that the current degree of democracy predicts lower level of corruption but institutionalised and long practiced democracy significantly contributes lower level of corruption.

Democratic countries in the beginning may face the rise of corruption level, when democratic institutions become stronger. As the democratic culture gradually takes root, corruption level is also declined. Eruption of corruption may go worsening among intermediate democracy, when advanced democratic institutions are consolidated. Initial political conditions and the democratic achievement determine the level of corruption. Due to the ruthless corrupt practices, there may not only be more corruption in autocracies, but the impact of such corruption also hit hard.

Scholars are of the opinion that corruption has no significant effect on economic growth in democratic societies, but that corruption significantly reduces growth in non-democracies. Effective democratic institutions work as a safeguard to check those corrupt practices for the betterment of the interest of the citizens. Now some questions are raised, do the voters really punish their representative if found corrupt? It depends on the conditions under which democracy has to work for controlling corruption. Two conditions are applied here. Firstly, citizens must know, or they have clear information of corrupt practices, secondly, that citizens or voters are able, willing, and well prepared to use this information to punish the incumbent corrupt government during the periodical elections.

This is possible when democracy is well strengthened. Again, another prominent question is faced now: Do citizens punish the corrupt politicians in democracies? Partially it is done, partially not. Even in a refracted societies corrupts are reelected and are involved in rampant corruption. In a democracy of developing societies the degree of buying votes to gain election are seen very much frequent and vulnerable. Evidence shows that when the people are conscious and societies are democratically stable, the corrupt are punished well.

Scandinavian countries especially Denmark, Sweden, New Zealand are representative example where overall level of corruption is reduced substantially. In this sense punishing corrupt politicians by the voters cannot be generalized because it has been relative terminology depending on the situation of the country.

Public trust
Corruption always undermines the development so that the corrupt government does not get recognition from the people. Good governance goes beyond its imagination. If appointed or elected officials entrusted to serve the public interest abuse their authority for gaining personal enrichment, the victimised people easily lose trust and confidence in their government. In a situation of well strengthened democracy corrupt representatives are punished, honest and people-oriented politicians get opportunity to be the dedicated representative. Singapore even in the absence of well practicing democratic norms stood best example in this regard along with other 20 least corrupt countries with democratic set up.

Applying scientific techniques to control corruption does not produce desired results if democratic system has not been well materialised. The role of media in providing prompt and accurate information is determinant for curbing corruption. Effective and well-practiced democracy always lowers the corrupt practices found in all national and sub national level of government.

(Mainali is former government secretary.)